Pillars of Gamification

Last time we talked about gamification and briefly mentioned, what I consider, the pillars of gamification. Do you remember what they were? 🙂

Today we’ll go deeper inside this subject in order to better understand the basics of gamification and how it works.

At first sight, gamification seems easy: we start from an idea/need, come up with a solution, add a reward system and boom! That’s it. People are actively engaged, everything is working like a charm and our business is growing. But in reality, things tend to be more complicated than that.

Gamification is a vast process which is less about fun and more about psychology and understanding people’s needs and interests (knowing what makes them tick). The whole process is actually based on anticipating your audience’s wishes and adjusting the process accordingly. Therefore, flexibility is a key aspect.

The first step is always the same: we start with an idea or a need. Absolutely everything, whether it’s a project, an activity, a hobby, anything, starts from a thought. Whether we want to increase our retention value, boost our fiscal value or help our employees/students become more efficient, a clear purpose must be stated. Otherwise, we will have failed before we even begin.

After setting our goal, we draw out the specific objectives and then ask the big question: Ok, we know what we want, but how do we get there?

Well, this is where the magic starts. And as we all know, magic is based on skill, attention to detail and anticipating your public’s reaction. With gamification, it’s exactly the same. We anticipate how our audience will react and come up with activities and methods for generating our desired behavior, necessary for achieving our objectives (in a future article we’ll talk a bit about ethics in gamification).

Richard Bartle designed probably the most wide-spread model for classifying our target audience, breaking it down into 4 categories: Achiever, Socializer, Explorer and Killer. As their names suggest, every category has a unique trait, which surpasses all others. The model basically implies that a certain “player” will always react the same in every game and context. We all have a friend who is so competitive that he always wants to win (and reacts poorly to losing) or a friend who is always looking forward to game night because he enjoys spending quality time with you or a friend that is always eager to prove to himself that he can win or that special friend who doesn’t care about winning or losing, but only about the way you win or lose.

What’s important to point out is that these behaviors remain unchanged regardless of the nature of the game: competitive or collaborative. But, remember, just because they will react the same way, doesn’t mean that they will automatically enjoy the game or wish to play.

Following this logic, the same can be said for gamification as well. Just because you’ve studied your audience and learnt what makes them tick, doesn’t mean that you can start creating the gamified process. It does mean, however, that you’re on the right track.

As you probably figured out, Killers will always be attracted to games based on competition. They can, however, be individual or team games. What’s important to them is that we always have a winner and at least one loser. Let’s say you give your team an individual challenge. Killers don’t just want to win, they want to defeat the others and let them know they’ve been defeated. They especially like public rewarding and gratification.

On the other hand, Achievers are less interested in the nature of the game and focus more on its difficulty. Too easy and they just won’t be interested. Too hard and they might just get discouraged and demotivated. They have this burning desire to overcome challenges (being in a competition with themselves) but often feel the need for backup (they are, let’s say, predisposed to collaboration). A true leader is an Achiever with vision and has the passion to lead by example.

A Socializer is the type of colleague who is genuinely curious about you and the people around him. He’s the type that wants to get to know you and befriend you. You can count on him in every situation and you can be sure he’ll always have something new to tell you. Kind of like a best friend. He’s in it for the ride, not the reward. But, he can also become easily demotivated in a competitive environment since he’s more of a peace keeper and can flourish in a collaborative environment, offering 110% of his enthusiasm and strength.

As for Explorers, they focus almost exclusively on the process itself. Their biggest pleasure is to find those loopholes, hidden paths, innovative methods which makes their work easier and the experience more pleasurable. They’re usually calm, patient and have a great attention to detail. If you need micro-management on something, this is your best candidate.

A competitive environment can be both good and bad for Explorers, depending on their character and ethics. They might crack under too much pressure but they are the lone-wolf type of people who think they are better off on their own and collaborating with other team mates might slow them down. So if you want to get them to collaborate with someone, that someone better be good, or you need some serious selling skills.

So competition and collaboration are important ideologies in gamification. Knowing how to juggle with them and what types of people you have in your target audience will help a great deal when creating a powerful gamified process, in order to reach your objectives. In a future article we’ll talk some more about Bartle’s model, as well as other similar models.


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